Exide: After Long Delay, State Moves to Speed Cleaning of Homes With Highest Levels of Lead

January 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

State environmental regulators issued guidelines Thursday that will allow expedited cleanups of high-risk homes near the shuttered Exide Technologies battery-recycling plant in Vernon even before a full mitigation plan and environmental review are completed.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control released a draft cleanup plan and environmental impact report for public review in December, with cleanup operations to mitigate lead-contaminated soil and properties near the plant anticipated to begin this summer.

That schedule, however, sparked criticism from some residents and area officials who said some properties near the plant are at particularly high risk.

DTSC officials said Thursday they will move forward with cleanups on a “case-by-case basis” at a limited number of properties “with high levels of lead in the soil and the greatest exposures to sensitive populations.”

“We are utilizing all of the resources at our disposal to ensure that we are able to take action to protect the most sensitive populations impacted by the presence of lead in the soil from the Exide operations,” DTSC Director Barbara Lee said.

The agency plans to consider for expedited cleanup properties that have soil with lead levels of 1,000 parts per million or more. The agency will also consider cleanups at properties were a resident
“has a blood-lead level at or above five micrograms per deciliter, which is the level used by the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify children with elevated blood-lead levels.”

The Exide plant permanently closed in March 2015. When Exide agreed to close the lead-acid battery recycling plant, it committed to pay $50 million for cleanup of the site and surrounding neighborhoods. Of that amount, $26 million is meant to be set aside for residential cleanup.

Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this year signed legislation providing $176.6 million in funding for environmental testing and cleanup work in neighborhoods surrounding the now-shuttered plant.

State officials said the funding would pay for testing of residential properties, schools, day care centers and parks within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant, and fund cleaning of as many as 2,500 properties with the highest lead levels.

Lead Found at LAUSD Schools

August 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

After learning lead had been found at Lorena Street Elementary where her two grandchildren attend school, Rosalia Valle wanted reassurance that they would be safe and that the cleanup would begin immediately.

“I’m really worried,” the Boyle Heights resident said in Spanish. “All I can do now is tell them to stay off the dirt.”

Last week the Department of Toxic Substances Control reviewed the results of recent soil samples conducted at Lorena Street Elementary in Boyle Heights and Rowan Elementary School in East Los Angeles and determined that levels of lead at both schools were higher than the 80 parts per million the state considers safe.

DTSC recommended that the Los Angeles Unified School District temporarily fence off the areas where lead was found.

Cleanup at both schools will begin as soon as this weekend for contaminated tree wells and could continue through the end of Thanksgiving break for the grassy areas, according to LAUSD officials.

Carlos Torres, deputy director of LAUSD’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety, told EGP the school district plans to go beyond just covering the bare dirt and tree wells as recommended, and will instead remove and replace all the contaminated soil.

“We don’t want to worry about this in the future,” he said. “We want to make sure the campuses are safe in the long run.”

An area near the entrance of Lorena Street Elementary was fenced off after high levels of lead were found in the soil. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

An area near the entrance of Lorena Street Elementary was fenced off after high levels of lead were found in the soil. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Norma Servin grew concerned about the danger to her 7-year-old when she noticed the fencing erected near the entrance to Lorena Street Elementary on Friday, and realized it was meant to keep children away from lead-contaminated soil.

“I just found out there’s lead where my daughter has attended school for years, where I dropped her off while I was pregnant,” she said, holding her baby.

Exposure to lead can lead to neurological damages in children and premature births in expectant mothers. Even low levels of lead can result in behavior and learning problem and lower IQs in children, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Lorena, Rowan and nine other schools were originally tested by contractors hired by Exide Technologies during the summer of 2015, under orders from DTSC as part of the Exide-related cleanup. The Exide plant recycled hundreds of used lead-acid car batteries daily before it was permanently closed in March 2015, following years of illegal emissions and toxic waste violations.

At that time, levels of lead above the federal threshold of 400ppm were discovered at Eastman Elementary in East L.A., prompting the school district to quickly decontaminate the site.

“We didn’t want to wait around, we just removed the soil,” Torres told EGP this week.

DTSC has since tested an additional 11 schools within the 1.7-mile radius surrounding the Vernon plant, but no further action was required at those schools. However, before DTSC would clear the 11 schools tested by Exide contractors, they decided to re-test all the school sites, including Fishburn Elementary in Maywood, which was later cleared from requiring any soil removal.

Test conducted at Lorena and Rowan showed lead levels high enough to require intervention at those sites.

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, second from left, met with representatives from LAUSD and the Department of Toxic Substances Control Monday at Lorena Street Elementary, where high levels of lead were founds. (Office of Assemblymember Miguel Santiago)

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, second from left, met with representatives from LAUSD and the Department of Toxic Substances Control Monday at Lorena Street Elementary, where high levels of lead were founds. (Office of Assemblymember Miguel Santiago)

Parents, in the meantime, say they were in dark about potential lead problems at their children’s schools.

According to Torres, LAUSD sent its first notice informing parents of the test results in March. A second notice with the most recent results was sent out last week, and those results have also been posted on LAUSD’s website.

Unlike Eastman, Torres says Rowan and Lorena’s lower lead levels of about 100ppm were just slightly above the state’s hazardous threshold of 80ppm. He also noted that because the school district is conducting the cleanup instead of state regulators, a full CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review is not required.

“If we waited for that we would be looking at this being done next summer,” Torres explained.

DTSC’s Assistant Director for Environmental Justice Ana Mascarenas told EGP the levels of lead found at schools were very low overall.

In comparison, “The 50 homes we have cleaned since then had the highest levels of lead, some above 1,000ppm,” she pointed out, explaining the urgency for remediating those sites first.

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago represents the area where the two impacted schools are located. He met with LAUSD and DTSC officials last week and says he received assurances that the campuses are safe at this time.

“Blocking off the areas has made the campuses safer than they were two or three weeks ago,” he told EGP. “But clean up is the long term goal.”

LAUSD estimates removing tainted soil at Eastman cost the school district thousands of dollars. It is not yet clear what the cost to clean Rowan and Lorena will come in at, however DTSC told EGP the agency fully expects the school district will seek reimbursement from the state.

“The most important priority is not who is going to pay or who is responsible, it’s the safety of the community,” said Santiago.

Watching her three children line up for class, Romero looks at her youngest child seated in a stroller and can’t help but again express her frustration and disbelief that the cleanup has not yet gotten underway.

“If lead affects children, you would think they would start the cleanup at schools” right away.

Locals Train for Jobs In Exide Cleanup

July 28, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

Rogelio Alvarez of Commerce could soon be part of the team working to decontaminate his neighborhood if hired by state regulators charged with cleaning up lead and other chemicals from the now shuttered Exide plant in Vernon.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control is providing free training to local residents and hopes they will be hired to perform sampling and assessment fieldwork during the cleanup and testing of approximately 10,000 properties in Boyle Heights, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park, Maywood and Vernon.

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that soil samples at some homes, schools and day care centers were contaminated with levels of “brain-damaging lead higher than previously disclosed,” with one property as much as 100 times higher than state health standards.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers lead levels of 400 parts per million or higher a health hazard. Last week DTSC released a summary of results for 1,190 homes, which showed that more than half of those properties had lead levels above 400ppm, including 36 properties with lead readings above 1,000ppm. Of the 36 properties with lead levels classified as hazardous waste, one third are located in East Los Angeles, according to The Times.

Under a local hiring requirement, state regulators could soon start employing residents from those same neighborhoods to do some of the cleanup work.

Gov. Brown and state lawmakers earlier this year approved a $176.6 million loan to DTSC to help expedite and expand the cleanup process, including a $1.2 million set aside to train local groups and residents in the decontamination process.

A man collects samples of dirt at L.A. Trade Tech Monday during a training to prepare for a lead sampling technician position. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

A man collects samples of dirt at L.A. Trade Tech Monday during a training to prepare for a lead sampling technician position. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The agency’s Workforce Development and Job Training program is currently collaborating with Los Angeles Trade Technical College (LA Trade Tech) and the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program (UCLA-LOSH) to provide environmental, health and safety and pre-employment life skills training to about 40 students interested in becoming lead sampling technicians.

“This is the beginning of a new model,” acknowledged Roger Kintz, program manager of the workforce development program.

At the insistence of community members, DTSC is requiring contractors to reserve 40 percent of all work hours for people hired from the six impacted communities.

“This is the first time DTSC has done this, it’s not a guideline, it’s required,” explains Kintz.

While there is no guarantee of employment, successfully completing the course will give the students the training and certifications they will need to apply for the 35 are so positions expected to become available by mid-August, and other job openings down the line.

The jobs will be for one year and pay $17 to $20 an hour, according to Kintz.

Asked Tuesday why he decided to take part in the 14-day training program, Alvarez told EGP his reasoning could be summarized in three letters: “ J-O-B.”

Alvarez says he’s been aware for sometime that homes in Commerce could be contaminated with lead, and sees the training as an opportunity to gain new skills that could lead to employment in the environmental industry.

This training will also help beef up his resume, adding to the other areas of environmental training he already has, including hazardous waste operations and emergency response (HAZWOPER), CPR, first aid and lead removal.

“This is a good way to receive more training, keep certifications current at no cost and hopefully land a job,” the Commerce resident told EGP.

According to Alvarez, he has spent hundreds of dollars on training courses and certifications, but has not had any luck finding a job because they are usually only open to union workers.

Also receiving training Tuesday were students from LA CAUSA-Youthbuild (Los Angeles Communities Advocating for Unity, Social Justice and Action, Inc.), an East Los Angeles-based continuation charter school. The training they received focused on the proper way to collect soil and other samples from homes, which like Alvarez, could be in their own neighborhoods.

Johan Lopez, 19, of Boyle Heights told EGP he had heard about the elevated cancer risk his community faces due to the toxic air pollutants spewing from Exide’s Vernon plant. His classmates Ricardo Trujillo, 19 and Valente Pereyda, 20, do not live in the impacted area, but because they attend school in East L.A., they too see the workforce program as a way to improve their job prospects.

All three are already certified in CPR, first aid and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety compliance regulations, but hope to gain much-needed work experience by taking part in the workforce development program.

“By testing our community we are also helping our community,” points out Pereyda, calling it a

win-win situation.

Correction July 29, 2016 An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated that over 10,000 properties will be tested instead of approximately 10,000. The article also inaccurately stated that the pay scale of the jobs listed, will range between $17 to $28 when in fact they will range between $17 and $20 .

El Público Arremete Contra DTSC en una Reunión del Comité del Estado

June 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Cuando el Comité de la Asamblea sobre Seguridad Medioambiental y Materiales Tóxicos realizó por primera vez una audiencia sobre la descontaminación de la instalación Exide Technologies ahora cerrada, los residentes del Este se volcaron hacía el Capitolio donde exigieron a los legisladores del estado avancen y exijan los fondos necesarios para hacer frente a la limpieza.

Cinco meses después, con $ 176,6 millones apartados por el gobernador Brown para el esfuerzo de limpieza, fue el turno del comité para pagar a los residentes, lo cual hicieron la semana pasada, llevando a cabo su reunión no muy lejos de la planta de Vernon.

Read this article in English: Public Blasts DTSC at State Committee Hearing 

Como es habitual, los funcionarios del estado, condado y ciudad de Los Ángeles actualizaron al comité sobre sus respectivos trabajos de limpieza y alcance a la comunidad. Pero los residentes que viven en el Este de Los Ángeles, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Maywood, Vernon y Huntington Park—áreas que se cree están contaminados con plomo y arsénico—dijeron al comité que esos informes no estaban dando a los legisladores una imagen completa de lo que realmente está pasando.

Vera Del Pozo, presidenta de la Junta de Vecinos de Boyle Heights, dijo que estaba cansada de escuchar a los funcionarios y el DTSC ir a hablar acerca de las cosas que la comunidad ha escuchado en repetidas ocasiones.

“Ya dejen de decirnos lo que han hecho y solo limpien esto ahora”, dijo, lo que provocó los aplausos del público.

Uno tras otro, los residentes renovaron sus llamados para un proceso de remediación más rápido, más eficiente, comenzando con un plan de limpieza que dijeron ya debería haber sido completado.

“Están pasando muchos problemas graves que necesitan ser abordados”, dijo Gladys Limón, abogada de Comunidades para un Mejor Ambiente en la reunión del comité de la asamblea en la preparatoria Roosevelt.

Bajo la Ley de Calidad Ambiental de California (CEQA), el Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas (DTSC) debe preparar un Informe de Impacto Ambiental (EIR) para la aprobación del plan de limpieza. La agencia encargada de supervisar la investigación y remediación del área de investigación preliminar de 1.7 millas, está solicitando la opinión del público antes de elaborar el plan de limpieza.

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Un residente de Commerce demanda un que haya revisión sobre la limpieza de Exide durante la reunión pública del 9 de juno.

El período de comentarios públicos comienza hoy 16 de junio y continuará durante 30 días, terminando el 18 de julio. Una vez que el proyecto de informe de impacto esté completado el público tendrá 45 días para revisar el documento y formular observaciones que se utilizarán para preparar el informe final. Se prevén dos reuniones de alcance para recopilar comentarios públicos para el 25 de junio en el Parque Pérez en Huntington Park y el 30 de junio en el ayuntamiento de Commerce.

La directora de DTSC Barbara Lee explicó que bajo la línea de tiempo actual de la CEQA, la limpieza que podría llegar a ser la más grande en la historia del estado, no comenzaría hasta junio de 2017.

Jane Williams, directora ejecutiva de Comunidades de California contra Tóxicos, instó a los legisladores para obligar a DTSC para ampliar el área de investigación a 4,5 millas, una demanda repetida por las docenas de residentes que viven fuera de la zona.

“Estamos dejando a gente atrás”, destacó Williams.

El Dr. Brian Johnston, presidente de medicina de emergencia en el White Memorial, pidió a la agencia que haga muestras de suelo más allá de las 1,7 millas. Él citó un estudio de 2010 realizado por el Distrito de Administración de la Calidad del Aire que declaró que la nube de toxinas de Exide podría llegar tan lejos como Altadena y Palos Verdes.

Lee explicó que los resultados de muestras de suelo recogidas hasta 4.5 millas de distancia de la planta de Vernon llevaron a la conclusión que las emisiones de plomo podrían haber viajado a 1,7 millas de la instalación. Ella le recordó al comité de préstamo de varios millones del estado sólo puede ser utilizado para abordar la reparación en esa zona.

Muchos residentes, sin embargo, se quejaron de que el informe de la agencia fue una repetición de un “anuncio informativo” que han escuchado muchas veces antes, e incluso argumentaron que DTSC carece de la experiencia necesaria para llevar a cabo la limpieza.

“[El problema] es más grande que lo que están tratando de pintar” dijo frustrado Joe González.

La asambleísta Cristina García, que estaba representando a los miembros del comité que no pudieron asistir, dijo que muchas de las quejas de la comunidad son válidas.

“Tenemos que ampliar la zona”, dijo a EGP. “Definitivamente necesitamos hacer eso”.

García le dijo a EGP que planea usar el testimonio público para hacer mejores preguntas a la agencia.

“Recibimos actualizaciones regulares de DTSC pero es a través de sus ojos y su perspectiva”, dijo.

La supervisora del Condado de Los Ángeles Hilda Solís recordó a los legisladores que se necesitarían más fondos, no sólo para la descontaminación de la zona, pero también para educar a la comunidad sobre los peligros de la exposición al plomo, que se sabe causan enfermedades neurológicas, discapacidad, cáncer y otros problemas de salud graves de aprendizaje.

“Esto no puede volver a pasar”, dijo Solís de la contaminación. “Es necesario que haya una investigación”.

Lee se defendió y defendió a la agencia recordando a la comisión y al público que en abril de 2013 Exide recibió la orden para suspender las operaciones y en marzo de 2015, meses después de que ella se hizo cargo como directora, la planta se vio obligada a cerrar de forma permanente.

Desde entonces, 1.800 casas han sido examinadas, se han firmado 3.400 acuerdos de acceso y más de 200 casas han sido descontaminadas, dijo, añadiendo que DTSC actualmente examina 135 propiedades a la semana, pero espera que aumente a 200 por semana el próximo mes.

“Tenemos mucho que hacer, pero hemos avanzado”, dijo Lee.

En la minoría, un residente agradeció a la agencia para la limpieza de su casa en el Este de Los Ángeles. Pero la mayoría de los residentes sentían que sus demandas y frustración estaban justificadas.

Mark López, director ejecutivo de East Yard Communities  para la Justicia Ambiental, dijo a EGP que el grupo tuvo problemas al trabajar con la agencia para reunir los acuerdos de acceso, un esfuerzo que no planean continuar.

“Hemos tenido que empujar a cada paso del camino para llegar al punto en que nos encontramos ahora”, dijo. “Es hora de que el DTSC de la cara y acepte el reto de hacerlo mejor”.

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